We visited the Andersonville Civil War Prison site on Wednesday. It is such a beautiful area, it's hard to believe such ugliness happened there.
We first found the actual town of Andersonville. It sits across from the prison/cemetery site. I never thought of there being a town, but the prison was really called Camp Sumter but since it was located in the town of Andersonville, that is how it is known.
The town is quite small, you can walk it in under 15 minutes if you wanted to. But, their whole thing is being the place where the commanders of the prison were stationed. The oldest building in town (and it really, really doesn't look like it's the oldest) was built in 1847 and is now a restaurant. Originally, it was the home of the Dykes family. Dr. Dykes was the surgeon for the prison. Other buildings are either original to the town or have been moved here and restored to represent what the town looked like during the Civil War.
The Civil War Prison Site and Cemetery is now a National Park dedicated to the honor and memory of all prisoners of war. There is a museum on site that tells the story of POWs throughout history. This museum is very interactive and moving. I was only able to go through about half of the museum before I had to leave it. I was taken aback at how emotional I became reading the stories and hearing them as well. You know, I've always been amazed at the willingness of our armed forces to do whatever it takes to keep this country free, but now that I have a son serving in the Army, all of this takes on a very personal meaning.
There was a group of service personnel from Fort Rucker in Alabama was touring the facility. I couldn't help but wonder what they were thinking as they explored the site and read about the POWs from the Civil War as well as the stories told in the museum. How I appreciate each and every one of them. And I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to tell them so.
Anyway, back to the prison site. Camp Sumter, its official name, was built in early 1864 and was comprised of about 16.5 acres. In June 1864 the site was enlarged to 26.5 acres and was designed to hold about 10,000 people. Before it was closed, about 45,000 people had been held there over the 14 month existence of the prison. The largest number of people in the prison at one time was 32,000 in August 1864. Can you imagine? 32,000 people in an area meant for 10,000. Because the Confederate Army was hampered by a deteriorating economy and Union blockades that kept supplies from getting to various areas, they were unable to supply adequate food, clothing and medical care to the prisoners. Conditions at the prison became deplorable very quickly.
By the time the prison closed in May 1865, more than 12,000 were dead. Because of the recordkeeping of one of the prisoners, Dorence Atwater, relatives of the dead were able to be notified. It is also the reason only 460 of the Andersonville graves needed to marked "unknown."
On the grounds of the prison site and in the cemetery, you'll find monuments erected in memory of those who died while imprisoned there. The monuments are by state and list the number lost. They are quite impressive. One of the monuments was placed by the Women's Relief Corps and is in memory of those lost in eight states which do not have individual monuments.
The cemetery is an active National Cemetery. Veterans from all wars can be found buried here. It is a breathtaking site to stand at the edge of the cemetery and look out over thousands and thousands of white markers, each of which represent a life who was willing to make a sacrifice so that I can be sitting here writing. Again, these are truly special people who serve our country.
One note of history on the prison site; there is a spring located near the North Gate. It is called Providence Spring. The story goes that the prisoners had begun praying for fresh water as the water supply from the creek that ran through the camp had become dirty because of the less than desirable hygiene conditions in the camp. One day, after a storm, a spring suddenly burst forth from the ground - where there had not been one before! Obviously, God had answered their prayers and provided water. To say the least, the prisoners were delirious with joy. Of course, others have a more "reasonable" explanation such as the spring had been buried and lightning from the storm split the earth open and allowed the spring to come forth. I totally believe God answered those prisoners' prayers - how He did it doesn't really matter, does it?
Walking back into history and trying to feel what these people felt is overwhelming. There were families as well as single soldiers locked in this camp. I can't imagine trying to keep my family safe in such conditions. What were they thinking? How did they survive? The human drive to live is a miracle in itself. We are survivors. I am just grateful that I have never been placed in such a position. I hope that I can be just as brave if the need arises. And I am reminded to be grateful each day for the time in which I live and the many blessings that have been given me.
We're going to Destin, FL on Thursday to meet up with a couple, Russ & Pat, who we met in Pigeon Forge. Then on Saturday we'll be in Alabama!! YAY! Until then . . .